Wide Support Voiced for Designation of Carnegie Library [UPDATE: Seward Park Library Designated]

New York Public Library, Seward Park branch, 192 East Broadway, Manhattan.

New York Public Library, Seward Park branch, 192 East Broadway, Manhattan. Credit: LPC

See below for update.

Testimony supporting designation of 1909 library focused on institution’s importance to generations of Lower East Side’s immigrant communities. On April 2, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the potential landmark designation of the Seward Park branch of the New York Public Library. The branch, located at 192 East Broadway, is a Renaissance Revival building that was completed in 1909 to designs from the firm of Babb, Cook & Welch. The library was one of 67 built in the City between 1902 and 1929 with funds provided by Andrew Carnegie. The three-story building is clad primarily in red brick, with limestone trim and a rusticated limestone base. A weathered copper railing stands above the building’s modillioned cornices and originally enclosed a unique open-air reading room on the roof, which is no longer in use.

The library originally possessed a large Yiddish-language collection, and served as a center for Jewish cultural life in the City. As successive waves of immigrants groups made their home in the Lower East Side, the library expanded its collection to include Chinese and Spanish texts.

Numerous community members, representatives of local organizations, and preservationists spoke at the hearing. Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City, called the library an example of “New York’s small civic buildings” that are “the legacy of a more just and intellectually honest society that existed in this City a hundred years ago.” Linda Jones, speaking on behalf of the Seward Park Preservation and History Club, said the history and architecture of the Seward Park branch was an “important part of the library experience.” A representative of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors urged swift designation, and noted that the library was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Area resident Rima Finzi-Strauss said it was important to ensure the library’s protection as “one of the few remaining reminders of the unique history of the Lower East Side” in light of “all the tremendous real estate changes happening in our immediate neighborhood.” Neighborhood resident Judith Prigal testified that the library, “aside from its architectural merits, has also had an important place in the history and lives of the people in its community.” The library was a place where her father, along with many other immigrants, were able to study English. Another resident described the library as the neighborhood’s “epicenter for immigrants and language learners.”

Members of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Friends of the Lower East Side, and the Historic Districts Council also offered testimony urging Landmarks to designate the property.

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney closed the hearing without comment. No date has been set for a vote on designation.

Update (6/26/13): Landmarks voted to designate the Seward Park Branch at it June 25, 2013 meeting. Chair Tierney praised the building both for its architecture and for its adaptation to the shifting population in the Lower East Side throughout its history. Commissioner Michael Devonshire noted that one could see the “luxury” of Babb, Cook & Welch’s mansion architecture in the building. Commissioner Michael Goldblum addressed its relationship to the park, which he said was the first planned playground in the City. Commissioner Fred Bland observed that the library integrated “everything that represents New York.”

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of designation.

LPC: New York Public Library, Seward Park Branch, 192 East Broadway, Manhattan (LP2531) (April 2, 2012).

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